Movie Mom

Movie Mom


Interview: Paul Newman biographer Shawn Levy

posted by Nell Minow

Movie critic Shawn Levy, author of the superb books King of Comedy: The Life and Art of Jerry Lewis and Rat Pack Confidential: Frank, Dean, Sammy, Peter, Joey and the Last Great Show Biz Party, has a new book about one of the most accomplished and adored movie stars of all time, Paul Newman. He very kindly made time for an interview in the midst of his book tour.

Q: Newman was one of those rare performers who become icons of their eras. What was it about his style of acting and choices of scripts that seemed so particularly characteristic of the post-WWII years?

A: He often played younger than he really was, like many actors, but it was particularly his casting as the failed sons of strong fathers in such films as “The Rack,” “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” “Hud” and, in a sense, “The Long Hot Summer” and “The Hustler” that cemented him as an icon. He carried the sensitivity of James Dean into a new era when the promise of a film like “Rebel Without a Cause” bled into mainstream and prestige films. He easily segued into rebel/countercultural figures starting in the mid-’60s (“Harper,” “Hombre,” “Cool Hand Luke,” “Butch Cassidy”). And because he was older than the characters he was playing (he was 38 when he made “Hud”), he also carried a savor of mature authority. He played, in short, equally well to both the establishment and the kids who threw mudballs at it.

Q: Is there a performance of Newman’s that you think is particularly overlooked or underrated?

A: His turn as the stage manager in the Broadway production of “Our Town,” which is available on DVD, is a classic bit of Americana. In movies, “Hombre” is tough and sullen and cool in a way you’d associate more with, oh, Steve McQueen than Newman. Both excellent films.

Q: What did he consider his biggest failing?

A: In acting, he felt he was too mechanical and calculating for the first 25 years or so of his career, and I think I’d agree. You see him pulling poses and striking moods quite deliberately even in such fine films as “The Hustler” and “Hud.” But later in life he ratcheted back and produced some astonishing performances. In life, I think he felt he was a very remote and arbitrary father until he reevaluated himself after the death of his son, Scott, in 1978.



  • Alicia

    Excellent interview questions and answers, Nell. If anyone fit the definition of a modern Renaissance Man, it was Paul Newman – father and husband, actor, director, race car driver, political activist, chef, philanthropist. I guess today we would simply call him a “Man in full.”

Previous Posts

Thursdays in September on Turner Classic Movies: The Jewish Experience on Film
This month, TCM has an excellent series of films about the Jewish experience, every Thursday. TCM proudly presents The Projected Image: The Jewish Experience on Film, a weekly showcase of movies focusing on Jewish history and heritage as portrayed onscreen. Co-hosting the films each Thursday is D

posted 9:21:56pm Sep. 01, 2014 | read full post »

Start the School Year With a No-Screen Week
A new study shows another good reason to detox from all screen time now and then, especially for kids.  Children who take a five-day break from all screens are better at reading real-life facial expressions to understand the emotions of the people around them.  Psyblog described the study, which s

posted 3:56:33pm Sep. 01, 2014 | read full post »

COMING THIS MONTH: September 2014 Movies
Happy September!  There isn't much new in theaters this Friday, but next week things start to pick up. Here's the best of what's coming in theaters this month: September 12: "Dolphin Tale 2"  This sequel to the endearing fact-based "Dolphin Tale" brings back stars Harry Connick, Jr., Morgan Fr

posted 8:00:52am Sep. 01, 2014 | read full post »

Labor Day 2014: Movies About Unions
Today we pay tribute to workers, especially those who worked for better conditions for everyone. Sally Field won an Oscar for this real-life story about a courageous woman who helped mill workers form a union. [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=45CX8W9peTs[/youtube] Doris Day plays

posted 7:00:42am Sep. 01, 2014 | read full post »

Summer Summer-y: The Summer Movies of 2014
A few concluding thoughts on the summer movies of 2014: A good summer for food movies: "The Chef," "The 100-Foot Journey," and "The Trip to Italy" had some big-time actors but the real stars were the luscious meals. Special mention of the delicious French comedy "Le Chef," starring Jean Reno, as

posted 3:46:47pm Aug. 31, 2014 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.